Friday, 13 May 2016

The Amazing Race 28, Episode 12

Shenzhen (China) - Guangzhou (China) - Los Angeles, CA (USA) - Santa Barbara, CA (USA)

The final three teams on The Amazing Race 28 managed to make their way back to the USA this week, despite not being allowed to bring their smartphones or any any other Internet-connected devices with them on the “reality” television show.

This season the cast of The Amazing Race 28 was selected entirely from YouTubers and other “social media stars”. In the first couple of episodes, they worried about whether they would suffer from Internet and social media withdrawal during the race, as well as how they would find their way around the world without a smartphone and GPS for guidance.

Today’s reality of travel, of course, is that these concerns aren’t unique to social media professionals. More and more people are coming to rely on smartphones for navigation and travel information as well as for their sense of community and connection to a stable world (or at least to Facebook) regardless of where they are.

If there’s one key takeaway from this season of the race, it’s that — at least from what the TV editors allowed us to see — the things the racers feared never became a problem. They sometimes found it inconvenient not to have their smartphones handy, but they discovered that it was possible to use paper maps or ask local people (who as often as not looked up answers on their smartphones) for directions and information. And they appeared to be too busy being where they were (“Wherever you go, there you are!”) to be bothered by the fact that they weren’t someplace else on the Internet. After the first few days on the road, when they talked quite a bit about their fear of Internet withdrawal, it was hardly ever mentioned again.

If these people whose professional working lives revolve around Internet “social media” can disconnect from the Internet and travel around the world without Internet-withdrawal trauma, you can too.

Even if you don’t plan on going cold turkey from Facebook or your phone while you are travelling, it’s worth thinking about how you will cope if you find yourself in a place whether the Web or cloud-based services you have come to rely on aren’t available because the Internet is unavailable (or, more commonly, the Internet is too slow to be useful for some of your purposes), or you don’t have your smartphone. If you travel enough, it’s a question of when, not if, this will happen. Maybe the Internet will be so slow that trying to download maps or check your e-mail just times out. Or your phone will be lost, stolen, or broken someplace where replacing it is prohibitively expensive. Murphy’s Law says this will happen in a place and at a time you weren’t expecting it and hadn’t made any special preparations. Before you find yourself in this situation, think about how you would cope with it.

Some apps and types of data are especially likely not to work well, or at all, or not to be accessible, if the Internet connection is too slow. There are many places, for example, where the Internet is too slow to use online maps or translation services. Even if you usually rely on these services, install offline navigation and translation apps as a backup, and/or carry a paper map and a phrase book or pocket dictionary. If you aren’t sure whether an app stores its data on your phone or in the cloud, or whether it works offline, test it in “airplane mode”.

I’ve been in quite a few places in recent years where connections were so slow that a Web browser would time out before a web-mail page finished loading. Don’t count on having Web-based e-mail available on demand when you need it. Download any essential data (the address and confirmation details of the place you plan to stay, for example) to your phone, or print it out or write it down.

What would you do if suddenly you didn’t have your phone at all, or it wasn’t working? Smartphones are the second target of pickpockets and snatch thieves, ahead of wallets and purses and behind only tablets (which are favored because they are easier to snatch). The more you rely on your device for navigation, translation, etc. the more you will have it out and vulnerable (to theft, being dropped and run over by a car, etc.) in public. Phones are among the items most often lost or forgotten. And when they fail, they often do so catastrophically and without warning. Maybe you can get a dead phone fixed and recover your data, eventually. But what will you do in the meantime?

Separate the critical data on your phone or other device(s) that you would want right away, such as contact lists, ticket confirmations, credit and ATM card numbers and issuers and contact information to report them lost or stolen, etc. from the photos or data that can wait until you get home and restore them from the cloud on a replacement phone. That will minimize the amount of data you need to restore to a replacement phone, and maximize the chance that restoring from the cloud will be possible (if you can find a replacement phone).

There are plenty of places in the world where restoring a whole library of travel photos or the other contents of your phone memory over the Internet could take days. And you might not have or be able affordably or quickly to obtain an identical phone to which to restore your data. Keep offline backups of any information you would want to have to continue your trip in a file format (e.g. text file) and on media (e.g. a ruggedized USB flash drive) that you can access on any borrowed computer or in a cybercafe. I keep a couple of sets of backups of my e-mail, contact lists, and so forth on separate encrypted flash drives or memory cards (TrueCrypt and VeraCrypt are among the options for encryption software that works on multiple operating systems) in different places in my luggage. Think about how you would get the data you need from your backups, in a way that would enable you to go on with your trip, at a moment when you have neither your phone nor useful Internet access.

Each team on this season of The Amazing Race was, for the first time, provided with a digital camera. I think the point was to allow them to take selfies that could be used in the TV show, without giving them a device that could access the Internet.

Standalone digital cameras are losing favor to cellphone cameras, but they have some advantages in spite of their extra weight and bulk if you are already carrying a camera phone. Your phone is most vulnerable to theft or damage from dropping when you are using it to take photos, so using a separate camera can help you keep your phone safer and more secure. More importantly, while the photos you haven’t yet backed up may have sentimental value, a standalone camera — unlike a camera-phone — isn’t likely to have data that is critical for you to have to continue your trip, or that can be exploited by an identity thief, if it is snatched away while you are concentrating on composing a photo.

Whether you take photos on your phone or a separate camera, back them up regularly. Consider encrypting the backups (or backing them up to a non-obvious cloud storage service, when connectivity permits that) and deleting them from your phone or camera.

Police, soldiers, and border guards have developed a nasty habit of asking or demanding to look at what’s on your phone, camera, tablet, or laptop. Less often, they may ask you to sign in and show them what’s in your Web-mail account (consider having a vanilla “decoy” account you can use for this purpose) or on your Facebook page. Surprisingly many travellers have photos that could offend someone or inadvertently transgress some law or cultural norm, whether by depicting government buildings — a no-no in many countries, sometimes including the USA, for security reasons — or showing too much skin.

Imagine what the border guards in the most prudish country on your itinerary might thing of the most risqué of the photos on your phone or your friends’ Facebook pages. You don’t have to unlock your phone, but they don’t have to let you into their country.

Usually snoops like this will only look in the most obvious places. They are likely to demand that you unlock your phone or device, and look through the photos on the memory card in your camera or the camera app on your phone or tablet. They might ask you to log in to Facebook and/or your Web-based e-mail account. But they are unlikely even to notice, much less to demand the password for, every individual encrypted file on any of your memory cards, especially those stashed separately in your luggage.

What would be most useful would be a version of the CHDK alternate digital camera firmware that uses the processor in your camera to encrypt photos as soon as they taken, before they are saved to a memory card. I suspect it’s possible, and it’s been discussed as a CHDK feature request, but it doesn’t exist (yet). Any coders care to volunteer to take on this project?

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 13 May 2016, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

Have you - or anyone you know - tried refusing to show border guards your webmail/social media account? I'd be curious to know whether they'd simply deport you or take it as a sign that you have Things to Hide and investigate you more closely. And what do they do if you don't have such accounts or can't remember the passwords?

(eg, I do very little on Facebook, and never from my phone, so the desktop knows the passwords and I have a record of it somewhere, but I don't know it off the top of my head at a border crossing. Not a security thing, I just don't like Facebook much.)


Posted by: Wendy M. Grossman, 13 July 2016, 03:26 ( 3:26 AM)
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